Following allegations of rule-breaking against Boris Johnson’s government in the face of the partygate inquiry, the Metropolitan police have now issued over 100 fines, including to the prime minister, his wife Carrie Symonds and chancellor Rishi Sunak.
Updated 13 May: The Metropolitan police said it has now issued 100 fixed-penalty notices as part of its Partygate investigation in the first public update on the investigation’s progress which were paused ahead of last week’s local elections.
The Covid lockdown breaches are now said to be on a “record-breaking scale,” however Boris Johnson confirmed that neither he nor his wife, Carrie, were among those issued with new fines.
The investigation is looking at 12 separate events that took place in Downing Street and Whitehall during 2020 and 2021. The Met’s leadership initially believed in February it would be completed within weeks, however there is still no sign of an imminent end. The Met statement on Thursday said the investigation “remains live”, indicating more penalties may come.
Durham police said last week they would investigate claims the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, broke lockdown rules by eating a takeaway curry at a campaign event last year.
The investigation has been repeatedly dismissed by senior Conservatives, with Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg stating that the new wave of fines were not as important as other “crucial things going on”.
Rees-Mogg told BBC Breakfast: “I really don’t think this is the issue of the moment…there are so many crucial things going on. There are other things going on that are more important.
“I am afraid I think this is a non-story, the BBC has absolutely loved it but what is important is that we get on with the business of Government.”
His statement provoked an angry reaction on social media, with many who had lost loved ones to Covid sharing their hurt.
As reported on 20 April: Appearing in the Commons yesterday for the first time since being fined for breaking his own lockdown law, Boris Johnson addressed the scandal that has seen him, his wife Carrie Symonds and chancellor Rishi Sunak implicated in a Metropolitan police investigation.
“I paid the fine immediately and offered the British people a full apology,” he said.
“I take this opportunity on the first available sitting day to repeat my whole-hearted apology to the House.
“As soon as I received the notice [from the Met] I acknowledged the hurt and the anger and said that people had a right to expect better of their prime minister and I repeat that again now.
“Let me also say, not by way of mitigation or excuse, but purely because it explains my previous words in this House, that it did not occur to me then or after that a gathering just before a vital meeting on Covid strategy could amount to a breach of the rules. That was my mistake and I apologise for it unreservedly.”
Johnson was met with jeers from both opposition and his own MPs, with Labour leader Keir Starmer calling his apology a “joke”.
“Even now as the latest mealy-mouthed apology stumbles out of one side of his mouth, a new set of deflections and distortions pour from the other,” he continued.
“The damage is already done and the public have made up their mind. They don’t believe a word the prime minister says, they know what he is.”
Within his own party, former Tory chief whip Mark Harper publicly branded Johnson “unworthy” of the office of prime minister and later submitted a letter of no confidence, accusing him of asking Tory MPs to “defend the indefensible” as crucial local elections approach.
The Commons will hold a vote this Thursday on whether to refer Johnson to the Privileges Committee, which can investigate whether he was in contempt of parliament over Partygate.
As reported on 29 March: The Metropolitan police has announced that it will issue the first 20 fixed penalty fines as part of its investigation into illegal parties held in multiple government buildings by officials while the rest of the country was living under strict pandemic lockdowns.
The announcement marks the first official confirmation that events in Downing Street and Whitehall broke laws created by Boris Johnson’s government and comes four months after the Prime Minister denied parties were held and insisted all guidance was followed.
The Met said today that investigations were continuing and more so-called fixed-penalty notices could be issued at a later date, however it did not name the individuals who were issued fines.
“We are making every effort to progress this investigation at speed and have completed a number of assessments,” it said in a statement. It added that, “due to the significant amount of investigative material that remains to be assessed,” more fines could be recommended “if the evidential threshold is made.”
Stylist has contacted Downing Street for comment.
As reported on 23 February: A leaked questionnaire sent by the Metropolitan Police to Downing Street has shown that staff were asked to name a “lawful exception” or “reasonable excuse” for alleged lockdown parties in Number 10.
Sue Gray’s abridged report into the Downing Street “partygate” revealed several events that had not previously been publicised, including a gathering on 14 January 2021 “on the departure of two Number 10 private secretaries”. However, the redacted report revealed no further details.
However, the document, a version of which was obtained by ITV News, says that those accused are being given an opportunity to provide “a written statement under caution,” after being asked questions such as: “Did you participate in a gathering on a specific date” and “What time did you leave”.
Other questions included “Did you interact with, or undertake any activity with, other persons present at the gathering. If yes, please provide details”, and “What was the purpose of your participation in that gathering”.
Downing Street confirmed on Friday that the prime minister has submitted his questionnaire, with a spokesperson telling the Independent: “We have confirmed the prime minister has been contacted by the Metropolitan Police. We will not be commenting further while the investigation is ongoing.”
Former Metropolitan Police chief Cressida Dick had previously announced that the force would investigate “a number” of allegations of parties held in Number 10 during Covid lockdown restrictions, including one described as a “prosecco-fuelled leaving do for a Number 10 aide” and allegations that Downing Street staff held a birthday party for Boris Johnson inside Number 10 in June 2020, despite Covid lockdown rules banning all indoor socialising,
According to an ITV News report on Monday 24 January, the prime minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, led the surprise gathering on the afternoon of 19 June which featured up to 30 people, who sang happy birthday and enjoyed picnic food from M&S.
Responding to the claims, a Number 10 spokeswoman confirmed that a group of staff had “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room “to wish the prime minister a happy birthday”, adding: “He was there for less than ten minutes.”
Speaking in the House of Commons, Johnson also said he “welcomed” the Met investigation, and claimed it would help to “draw a line” under the issue.
However, the prime minister’s former aide Dominic Cummings, who also accused him of lying to parliament about a “bring your own booze” party held during the first lockdown in May 2020, claims that evidence is being kept from the investigation because staff fear it will be seen by Johnson.
“I know others are very worried about handing things to the Cabinet Office because they know the PM will see everything SG [Sue Gray] collects,” Cummings said in his latest blog post.
According to Cummings, who himself was embroiled in lockdown-breaking controversy, an email sent by “a very senior official” warned the “bring your own booze” event broke Covid rules, which, if true, would cast a dark shadow of doubt over the prime minister’s previous defence that he thought the Number 10 gathering was “a work event”.
Sky News reported that these allegations are indeed backed up by journalist Dominic Lawson, who wrote in the Sunday Times that a former Downing Street official told him at least two people had told the PM it was “a party” and should be cancelled.
A spokesperson for Number 10 told Stylist: “It is untrue that the Prime Minister was warned about the event in advance. As he said earlier this week he believed implicitly that this was a work event. He has apologised to the House and is committed to making a further statement once the investigation concludes.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer responded to the claims of a rule-breaking party by saying Mr Johnson had become a “national distraction”, adding: “He’s got to go”.
He added: “We’ve got a prime minister and a government that spends their whole time mopping up sleaze and deceit, meanwhile while millions of people are struggling to pay their bills.”
Jo Goodman, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, told the Independent that the latest claims were “completely sickening” and “though we’re not even surprised any more, it still brings fresh pain.”
She added: “Every day and every fresh scandal pours salt on the wounds of the hundreds of thousands who have lost loved ones – if he had any decency he would do what we and the country is calling for him to do and go.”
Other include that staff working for Priti Pratel ‘mingled’ and ‘drank prosecco’ at the Home Office during lockdown in March 2021 and Number 10 held “wine time Friday” throughout the pandemic to help Downing Street staff “let off steam”. Stylist has contacted the Home Office for comment.
Sue Gray, the senior civil servant leading the inquiry into the evidence around several gatherings that may have broken coronavirus legislation, published an abridged version of her report in January, which found that there were “failures of leadership and judgement” in Number 10 and the Cabinet Office.